April 6, 2014

Review: Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack and how to choose a great backpack


A good backpack can make or break a trip. Drenching rain, language barriers, delayed flights — you can weather all with humor and go-get-’em attitude.

But a good backpack is the foundation upon which your trip rests. It holds your entire life in one place. It protects it. Sometimes you wear it so often it feels like another appendage.

That’s why it’s important to take some time before your trip to figure out what kind of new appendage — or backpack — works for you. Next to figuring out which book to take with me, this decision was the most important on my two-week trip to Europe.

Review on Osprey Kestrel 48 backpack

osprey frontAfter lots of research, I decided on Osprey Packs Kestrel 48 backpack for three reasons:

But the true test came after wearing my pack for two solid weeks. Included in that time were some very long midnight wanderings in suburban Rome searching for our hotel, running through train stations and for vaporettos, and getting shoved under train seats.

What I liked and disliked about the Osprey Kestrel



What to look for when choosing a backpack

1. Functionality

How are you planning to use your pack? Will you be hiking or walking a lot? Do you need it to be water-repellant?

If you’ll be walking with it a lot, pick one with an interior frame and hip belt to redistribute the weight off your shoulders. Water-resistance is a good thing to consider, so check for a rain cover. You can’t always control the weather, but it’s nice to know your stuff won’t get soaked.

2. Durability

You want a pack that wears its age and travels well. You don’t want to deal with broken zippers or rips on the road.

Look for fabric at least 400 denier nylon packcloth with a urethane coating (aka water-repellant). Test the zippers. Do some Google searches on “broken zipper + pack name” to see how it stands up.

A good place to check out long-term durability is reading Amazon’s reviews on the pack; you get a wide smattering of opinions to help your decision.

3. Access into the bag

Do you want to access the bag just from the top (top-loading pack)? Or from the top and bottom (called the sleeping bag compartment)? Exterior pockets or no pockets?

These are things to consider if you want to lock your bag. The more access points into your bag equals more locks you need.

4. Carrying Capacity

Ah, the clincher. Getting a pack that’s too big will restrict your ability to carry it on the plane. Getting a pack too small will curtail your purchasing abilities.

It’s a really good idea to check out the bags in person. After all, this is gear that interacts with your body. Like shoes, how it feels on you will impact how you feel about the trip.

Play around with the packs. Try them on. Figure out how it feels on your back and do a few spins to check your bull in a china shop prowess. The empty pack should feel light and not too bulky on your back.

For me, the perfect capacity size was 48: still small enough for carry on, but large enough for clothes and extras picked up along the way.

5. Backpack size

Backpacks come in three sizes: small, medium and large. The sizes are determined by your torso length, not your height.

Here’s a general guide to figuring out the pack size from your torso length:

Men’s and Women’s
Pack Size Torso Length
Extra small Up to 15½”
Small 16″ to 17½”
Medium/Regular 18″ to 19½”
Large/Tall 20″+

Difference between men and women packs:

Generally, compared to men’s packs, women’s packs are:

But really, it comes down to how the pack feels on you. Even though I’m a woman, I picked a men’s pack based on how it fit me and what it looked like. Oh — and that it had good pockets.

Read more by Laura at Waiting To Be Read.

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Category: Backpacking, Travel Gear

September 10, 2013

Getting lost? There’s an app for that!

Get lost

There’s something to be said for getting lost. 

I rather like it, actually. Taking off with no destination, exploring a city by braille, and the serendipity that inevitably arises as a result are intoxicating. There are days in which the last thing I want is a map, or directions, or to “get there” in the most expeditious manner.

And then… there are the other days. The days when I’m lost and it’s maybe not comfortable, or fun, or safe. There’s that moment when you look around and think, “Well this is no good…” and you realize you’re in the wrong neighbourhood, it’s almost dark and you have no idea where you are.

My husband pointed me towards an article about new app called Kovert this week that is a savvy solution in that moment. It’s a GPS for your phone that gives directions via vibration in your pocket rather than voice or visual. One blast for port, two for starboard; that kind of thing. So now, you’re walking down the street, feeling your directions instead of with your nose in your phone display. Your mind and your eyes are free to take in your surroundings. You’re not painting a target on your ass with the double whammy of an expensive piece of equipment and the announcement that you’ve got no idea where you are since you’re clearly following it down the street.

I like this idea from two perspectives: 1. increasing safety and decreasing the presence of obvious high-theft items. 2. increasing presence in a place instead of face time with a device.

What are your thoughts? Any travel apps that enhance your experience?

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Category: Travel Gear, Travel Tech

December 27, 2012

Suffer from food allergies, there’s an app for that

Engineers at UCLA are working on converting an iPhone into a small laboratory. Weighting less than 2 ounces, the iTube attaches to your phone and analyzes a food sample in about 20 minutes using a colorimetric assay test. The user grinds up a small sample of food with hot water and places it in the tube along with an extraction solvent. After several other testing liquids are added; the phone then captures an image of the sample using its built-in camera and a program app optically analyzes the image for allergen particles down to parts per million. It doesn’t just confirm the presence or absence of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs or gluten; it also tells the amount within the sample.

image courtesy of: UCLA Newsroom

As someone who suffers from severe food allergies; the possibility of such a gadget intrigues me. However I am still skeptical. When in doubt about the specific ingredients of a food, I simply opt not to eat it. True, this practice limits my culinary variety but I figure I can find thrills other ways.


How about you? If you suffer from food allergies would you consider the iTube a useful gadget for home or travel use?

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Category: Food and Drink, General, On The Road, Travel Gear, Travel Health, Travel Tech

July 23, 2012

How Tim Ferriss and Silicon Valley techies hack their trips

Packing light.

Packing light. Photo: Amina Elahi / Flickr

Business travelers, also known as “road warriors,” are some of the most experienced trip hackers around. Although here at Vagabonding we espouse slower wandering, these hard-core types have streamlined the process to a science. Their advice appeared in this New York Times article: How the tough get going: Silicon Valley travel tips. Prominently featured in the article is Tim Ferriss, known as the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” and the “The 4-Hour Body.”

Naturally, there are many websites and apps that get mentioned. It’s interesting to see these guys apply a hacker ethic of “lighter, faster, more efficient” to their journeys.

My favorite tip was how to get a new charger and adapter fast if you lose yours. Ask your hotel to see their “lost and found” box. If you’re staying at a place that gets a lot of businesspeople, a lot of those things get accidentally left behind.

The CLEARcard was new to me. This enables cardholders to pass through airport security faster. While it’s a useful tool, a quick check of their website reveals that the card can only be used in four airports. If the card were more widely accepted, it would be more handy.

I did research, and found Global Entry. This is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that can help members speed through security. Global Entry has been deployed in many major American airports, making it far more convenient than CLEARcard.

Some of the advice was risky though, like packing a starter pistol and declaring the firearm to TSA, as a way of making sure airport staff don’t lose your bag. With security being a big concern these days, this is not something I would recommend to anyone.

How do you pack light for your trips? Any tips for speeding up the check-in and boarding process? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Category: Air Travel, Lifestyle Design, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Gear, Travel Tech

June 28, 2012

Review: the travel halo

“The travel pillow for people who hate travel pillows!”~ thetravelhalo.com

Booking overnight transportation can reduce the number of nights one stays in hostels or hotels; but adequate rest in the upright position is challenging. And honestly, most travel pillows out there aren’t worth the space and effort to bring along.
I’ve field tested a number of different kinds…

travel pillow with storage bag

1) Complementary ones on the planes
2) Rectangular ones filled with foam beads
3) The U-shaped kind packed with buckwheat or made from memory foam (both materials are heavy)
4) And one in the shape of a tube, that snaps together around your neck along with a battery operated vibrator
The last one I mentioned works fairly well but still is cumbersome to pack if you’re aiming to travel super lite.

Mike Vahey went back to the drawing board, removed the bulkiness of other designs and created a palm-size product which launched June 21st, 2012 on a crowd-source funding website called Indiegogo. “The Travel Halo” is a stretchy band that fits around your forehead uniquely designed with two foam pads spaced to prevent your head from rolling side to side. The material is a cotton/lycra blend, appears to be resistant to pulls from things like Velcro abrasion, is easily washable and will air dry if need be. Built into the band is a double-ply flip-down eye mask to block light. It’s also large enough to drape over eyeglasses.

“The travel halo” is most effective being used in a sitting position. But out of curiosity, I did try a supine position on a carpet, hardwood floor, camp mat, and a regular bed mattress. It proved comfortable with all those as well. The dog did lick my glasses while floor testing so perhaps the eye mask can double as a lick shield too! The only difference I noticed between sitting up vs lying down was slightly more play from side to side due to the full weight of my head pressing down.

If you are not familiar with a site like Indiegogo, it’s one of many world-wide platforms to raise money for projects. Click here to learn more.

As I said before, “The Travel Halo” was launched recently and is not yet available in stores. You can pre-order one (or more) starting today, June 28th through July 21st 2012 by clicking here to help fund the product campaign and join one of the nine “perk” categories.

I’ll be happy to have one when I travel.

Eyeglass licking culprit, Amity, models “the travel halo”

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Category: General, Travel Gear

May 31, 2012

Advice for women: “that time of the month”

Warning for men: if talk about female cycles makes you uncomfortable or queasy I’d suggest you skip this post!


Ladies, we can’t all live in the remaining hunter-gatherer cultures where ones menstrual cycle is a sacred celebration. Nor are we still band from our own households for three days like the old laws in Nepal. And frankly I doubt if I strip naked to walk through a field, anyone would still believe that I was warding away storms and ridding the crops of pests like they did in Ancient Rome. Instead most of us reside (or travel) where ‘that time of the month’ makes us feel like crap and becomes an extra hassle; to carry or find supplies can be cumbersome. The traditional methods of tampons or pads still can bleed into awkward moments. For example, when all our travel buddies are going swimming, and we’ve got to make up an excuse rather than announce to everyone were on the ‘rag’.

History aside, years ago while reading a travel blog I came across a post about menstrual cups. They are a rubber or silicone device which you can insert to gather blood, then simply empty and reuse for many years. At first it’s slightly strange getting accustomed to them, but afterwards you’ll be thankful to have made the switch! Technically the little cups were first made in the 60’s; but new designs work better and are widely available. For those of you located in the Americas, Diva Cup is a good brand. In Europe, Lady Cup seems to be the favorite. Their website is also offered in twenty language translations.  Of course each time it’s emptied it must be rinsed. If you’ve got no access to water or the microbes might be questionable have some wet-wipes handy like swipes or intimate wipes.

As a final note, during the “No Baggage Challenge” another of our vagablogging team members referenced these cups in her advice for a female version of the trip around the globe with no bags.

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Category: Female Travelers, General, On The Road, Travel Gear, Travel Health, Vagabonding Advice

April 25, 2012

Icebreaker vs. EMU merino wool for travel – 2 months into traveling

Merino wool has been touted as an ideal travel clothing material thanks especially to its breathability, odor resistance and fast-drying abilities. I stocked up on a few lightweight merino wool items before leaving for my trip two months ago, and I quickly gained a favorite among the brands and also learned some other benefits of the material.

There are numerous brands of merino wool products; Icebreaker, EMU Australia, Smartwool and Ibex are among the largest and most popular. My items are all Icebreaker and EMU Australia because I like their styles and fits. I found Smartwool’s pieces to be too itchy and mostly for cold weather, which didn’t suit my needs for Latin America.

These are the lightweight merino wool items I bought:
EMU Pambula Tee
EMU Dalmeny Shirt
Icebreaker Siren Tank (in two colors)
Icebreaker Villa Dress (in two colors)

After two months wearing these items almost daily, I’ve made several observations:

Itch factor
I’d worn merino wool sweaters and found them to be slightly itchy,  so I was curious how the lightweight merino wool would feel. At first, the shirts from both brands were a little itchy, but after just a wear or two, they felt fine. I find the Icebreaker version to be a bit softer and more comfortable.

I’d always associated wool with coats and cold-weather clothing, so I was curious to see how the lightweight merino wool held up in the hot climates and during outdoor activities. It turned out to be extremely breathable – never got sweaty or hot. I found this to be especially true with the Icebreaker pieces.

I always get a bit skeptical when clothing says it’s wrinkle-resistent – especially when it comes in a package and is wrinkly when I take it out. That was the case with these items, but I found that once you put them on, the wrinkles go away. They get wrinkly again after being stuffed in the backpack, but the issue is quickly resolved during wear. Again, the Icebreaker pieces overcame wrinkles faster and better than the EMU pieces.

This is one area where EMU beats Icebreaker, in my opinion. While Icebreaker’s styles are more athletic and simple, EMU offers a wider variety of styles that can pass for everyday or even workwear, such as this t-shirt and this cardigan. This sets it apart from typical travel clothes.

However, a style downside of the particular EMU items that I bought is that they are see-through. This means I have to wear a cami under it, and since my cami isn’t merino wool it sort of defeats the purpose.

Icebreaker does have some non-athletic styles, such as the Villa Dress that I have, and they seem to be adding more.

All the items are lightweight and roll up small, but Icebreakers’ are significantly smaller and lighter.

This is the biggest downside of my EMU shirts. After one wash, the material pilled up (although this might have been due to being washed and dried in a machine), and I found that it stretched more easily and stains didn’t come out. Overall, the Icebreaker shirts feel more sturdy and durable.

Travelers, what have you found to be the benefits of merino wool? Do you have any favorite brands or items?

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Category: General, Travel Gear

March 29, 2012

For the love of moleskine notebooks

More than likely you’ve heard of the legendary Moleskine notebooks that were revered by artists, writers and travelers alike. Originally they were covered in a woven cotton fabric which was sheared, making it soft on one side. Bruce Chatwin describes this ‘Paris’ notebook in The Song Lines, “The pages were squared and the end-papers held in place with an elastic band. I had numbered them in series. I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder. To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries: to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.”

After a three month backpacking trip I came home with ten filled moleskine notebooks neatly bound with twine. I’d begun the trip with two blank ones. Much to my delight, it was easy to find more along my way. I agree with Chatwin; losing a notebook would be a catastrophe.

Before converting three years ago to using modern day Moleskines ; I collected various other notebooks of thickness and size.  In retrospect, they don’t visually stack nice and neatly; whereas the Moleskins do. This might seem like a silly and simple pleasure, but it makes me quite happy.

Have you ever shared your intimate travel moments with a Moleskine notebook?


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Category: General, Travel Gear, Travel Writing

February 16, 2012

Travelling with a guitar helps indie travel

A guitar gets me behind a Railway Reservation counter in Ayodhya, India... / picture by Davide Antonello

Last week, Lindsey Rue’s post on Vagabonding inspired me to reconsider slowing down to enjoy the music from another perspective: the musician’s.

I have been a punk rock guitarist for the best part of my twenties, and I have started to love travelling because of the long, inspiring van drives linking venue A to venue B across beautiful unfolding scenery. At that time, the goal was to hit a stage, play a great show, set the crowds “on fire”, and leave excited for the next town. As I started travelling for the sheer pleasure of vagabonding a few years later, the experience I made as a touring musician proved very helpful in many ways. However, besides an MP3 player filled to the brim with my favorite classics, I preferred not to include music on my travels. In fact, music was such an overwhelming part of my previous life on the road that I preferred to put it aside, and enjoy travel to a different extent.

I did not realize how wrong I was until this past January 5th, when I decided to pack a little ukulele-sized guitar in my backpack, and embarked on a flight to Kolkata, India. This instrument is custom-made: unable to find a proper suitcase, I had to pack it inside of a small daypack I always carry on my chest, sandwiched among the electronics and my valuables. In such a position,  the fret board sticks out, and is always visible. In little over a month, this proved to be a fantastic way to boost the possibilities of “taking it slow” and “make meaningful connections” as proposed by the Indie Travel Manifesto. (more…)

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Category: Backpacking, On The Road, Travel Gear, Vagabonding Advice, Vagabonding Styles

August 23, 2011

Review: Tortuga Travel Backpack 45

Have you ever been frustrated with your travel bag? Thought, "hey, you know what? I could do better than this"? Well that’s exactly what Jeremy Cohen and Fred Perrotta were thinking somewhere in the middle of their extended trip through Europe. At the end of the trip they decided to take matters into their own hands and founded Tortuga Backpacks, which has now launched its flagship pack — the Tortuga Travel Backpack 45.

Tortuga Backpacks were kind enough to send along a Tortuga Travel Backpack 45 pack for me to test.

The pack consists of two main pockets, two side pockets and two small stash-style pockets on each of the hip belts. There’s also a hidden pocket inside the main pocket for stashing your valuables. The Tortuga 45 also includes something I consider a must have for travel packs — a zippered cover for the shoulder straps and hip belt.

I didn’t get a chance to test it on the road, but the pack had no trouble holding everything I brought with me on a recent trip around the world. The Tortuga 45 also meets the size requirements for carry on luggage on most airlines, so you’ll never need to check it unless you want to. The padded back and hip belt make the pack comfortable even when it’s loaded down, though do bear in mind the emphasis on "urban". I wouldn’t want to walk ten miles with this pack, but for walks from the train station to the hostel you’ll be just fine.

The pack is made of ballistic nylon, which means it’s tough enough to stand up to the rigors of city travel, though you probably wouldn’t want to hit the Appalachian trail with it. The nylon also means the Tortuga 45 is water resistant (though not water proof). I stuck it in the shower for 20 seconds or so and it managed to repel most of the water. Suffice to say if you’re caught in a brief rain shower you don’t need to worry.

Overall I liked the Tortuga Travel Backpack 45. It’s a bit on the boxy side compared to some packs, but it’s definitely functional. My only real gripe is the size of the logo. It’s big. Really big. But I have a known allergy to all branding/logos/labels (even for brands I like) so that may just be me.

If the logo doesn’t bother you and you’re in the market for a new pack, well, we’re giving away our review copy of the Tortuga Travel Backpack 45 (which, as noted, has been briefly exposed to water, and few walks around my neighborhood, but is otherwise brand new). Just leave a comment below telling us where you’re headed and how long you’re going for and I’ll randomly select one lucky winner next week.

Congrats to our winner Jim Johnson

The Tortuga Travel Backpack 45 is available from the Tortuga Backpack website and costs $250.

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Category: Travel Gear













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